Introduced in 1936, the J-35 paved the way for slope-shoulder Gibson dreadnoughts. In many ways, its simple design and powerful tone embodied the depression era, and it was only made until 1942. While other builders (such as Martin in particular) remained consistent with the specs of their models, the wide variation of J-35 specs illustrates that Gibson was a flexible company in an experimental phase. The variation in J-35s allowed Gibson to explore different design elements and produce iconic dreadnoughts such as the J-45 and the Southern Jumbo. But at the same time, the wide range of J-35 specs adds considerable personality to each individual example. Because of that, each prewar J-35 captures its own vibe, character, and mystique.
This 1939 Gibson J-35 is from the first year that the natural finish was offered. It features the classic J-35 24-3/4" scale, and it has three unscalloped tone bars under the hood. It has the V-shaped neck with the pointy French heel that is more common on Gibsons of the earlier '30s. It also has the rare "stacked heel" design that is mostly seen on Gibsons with sunburst finishes, but shows Gibson's adaptability and willingness to try whatever worked during this period.
True to the J-35 reputation, this '39 has a tone that emphasizes more of the harmonic content, lending a warmer, sweeter presence. It has a powerful mid-range that makes it a great strummer, but it has plenty of articulation and clarity for delicate fingerpicking as well as intricate single-note melodies. Overall, its tone is sweet and steeped in subtlety—it's a guitar that seems to sound great in every application. No matter where you push it, you'll be pleased with the results.
Like any old Gibson, this 1939 J-35 has required substantial work to be in playable condition some 83 years after it was made. The neck has been reset, and the Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard has been refretted. It has a recent new saddle and reworked bridge plate from Colfax Guitar Shop in Denver. The bridge is the appropriate design, and it appears to be Brazilian Rosewood. But if it is original, it has been sanded down at some point, and there is evidence that an improper belly bridge was used at one time. There are six repaired back cracks, and the typical pickguard crack on the top between the soundhole and bridge (also repaired). There is also a repair on the treble side, and at some point, the end block cracked and was repaired. There are repaired cracks on both the treble and bass side from the same event and also a ~6" stretch of re-glued binding.
This 1939 Gibson J-35 has a new nut, and although the tuners are original (and perfectly functional), the buttons have been replaced. Under the blacklight, it shows plenty of fluorescence from the original finish, but there are signs of drop fills and evidence of overspray in various places. The back of the neck in particular shows some overspray from someone trying to clean up wear.
Great care has been taken to ensure that this '39 J-35 plays to its full potential, and with such low, inviting action, it's hard to imagine better-playing examples exist. Its tone is remarkably refined, and it is a testament to the J-35's reputation. It includes a high-quality modern case.